Thoma pleads guilty to felony child endangerment, abuse of a corpse
A Fort Dodge man accused of helping his girlfriend drown their newborn daughter in November 2022 has pleaded guilty to amended felony charges.
Brandon Thoma, 32, was arrested alongside 24-year-old Taylor Blaha in early December and the pair were charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony. Thoma was additionally charged with abuse of a corpse, a Class C felony.
Earlier this summer, Thoma was granted a change of venue for his trial and it was set to start Aug. 8 in Cerro Gordo County. A hearing on a motion from the defense to suppress evidence was scheduled for Wednesday morning, but instead a plea hearing was held after the parties reached a plea agreement.
Under the plea agreement, the prosecution, led by Assistant Attorney General Ryan Baldridge, amended the murder charge to a charge of child endangerment resulting in death, a Class B felony. The abuse of a corpse charge remained the same.
In the plea proceedings, Thoma was required to state in court the factual basis for his guilty pleas.
For the felony child endangerment plea, he admitted, “I was the parent of the child. I intentionally committed an act that resulted in the death of the child.” Despite the opacity of the statement, District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe found it sufficient enough to satisfy the statutory requirements of the offense.
Thoma was a little more forthcoming about the abuse of a corpse charge, admitting, “I hid the corpse with the intent to conceal a crime and I put her in a trashcan a block from my residence.”
Thoma and Blaha are accused of being responsible for the drowning death of their newborn daughter in the bathroom of their downtown Fort Dodge apartment last fall.
According to a search warrant application recently unsealed and filed on the case, law enforcement were notified on Nov. 22 by an employee of the Iowa Department of Human Resources about a baby that was born at home and buried at an unknown location. Then-Detective Amy Stringer, who was at the time with the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, met with Blaha in an inpatient room at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center. During the meeting and interview, Stringer wrote in the search warrant application, Blaha admitted to knowing she was pregnant as far back as the previous April and that she and Thoma had been together for approximately three years and shared another child together.
Blaha told Stringer that she began having contractions on Nov. 16, 2022, and a short while later gave birth while sitting on the toilet in their apartment’s bathroom. Blaha said that while she was in labor in the bathroom, Thoma offered her a methamphetamine pipe to relieve the pain.
Blaha told Stringer that the baby was born alive, had cried and that approximately one minute after the birth, she and Thoma held the newborn underwater in the bathtub until she was no longer breathing because they were worried the neighbors would hear the baby’s cries and call 911.
According to the criminal complaint filed when Thoma and Blaha were arrested, security video footage from the downtown Fort Dodge area showed Thoma leaving the Wahkonsa Apartments in the early morning hours of Nov. 17 with a backpack containing “a rectangular shaped object.” He returned about 20 minutes later and the backpack appeared empty. Thoma admitted to investigators that the baby’s body was in the backpack.
Blaha told Stringer that when Thoma returned, he told her that he buried the infant near the railroad tracks behind Yomi’s Treasures and More, 426 S. Eighth St.
After the homicide was reported, the Fort Dodge Police Department mounted a massive search operation, enlisting help from several local, state and federal agencies to search the downtown area as well as the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency’s landfill. Webster County Crime Stoppers has offered a $1,500 reward for information that leads to the recovery of the infant’s remains. No remains have been located.
A sentencing hearing for Thoma’s guilty pleas is scheduled for Sept. 1. Class B felonies carry a prison sentence of up to 50 years with a mandatory minimum between 30% and 70%. Class C felonies carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
As part of the plea agreement, the state and the defense jointly recommend a 20-year minimum on the 50-year sentence and for the two sentences to run concurrently, or at the same time. Thoma will also be required to pay $150,000 in victim restitution, though the court has not specified who the recipient will be.
The plea and sentencing agreement is contingent on the judge’s approval once a pre-sentencing investigation report is completed. If the judge declines to accept the sentences as recommended, Thoma will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and trial proceedings will resume.
Blaha’s trial is currently scheduled to start in mid-September.